Western Animation: Censored Eleven
In the history of media, there are works that may not seem overtly controversial at the time of their creation, but later come to be regarded as such as time passes and perceptions of morals, beliefs, and societial issues change. Animation is no different, and there is no better example of this within the medium than the Censored Eleven
The "Censored Eleven" are a collection of eleven different animated shorts — ten released under the Merrie Melodies
label, one released under the Looney Tunes
label — created between the years of 1931 and 1944
. The full list is as follows:
- Hittin' the Trail for Hallelujah Land — 1931, directed by Rudolf Ising
- Sunday Go to Meetin' Time — 1936, directed by Friz Freleng — Watch
- Clean Pastures — 1937, directed by Friz Freleng. It is interesting to note that this cartoon nearly got banned when it was released in the late 1930s, not for race, but for religious reasons (the Hays Office thought people at the time would be offended that blacks are depicted as heavenly creatures and even The Devil wants to get into Heaven) and for glamorizing vices (gambling, sex [the showgirls dancing to "Sweet Georgia Brown"], and booze). Watch
- Uncle Tom's Bungalow — 1937, directed by Tex Avery
- Jungle Jitters — 1938, directed by Friz Freleng — Watch
- The Isle of Pingo Pongo — 1938, directed by Tex Avery
- All This and Rabbit Stew — 1941, directed by Tex Avery — Watch — The only Bugs Bunny cartoon to be put on this list. This cartoon has also been put on the 12 Banned Bugs Bunny cartoons list.
- Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs — 1943, directed by Bob Clampett. Despite being banned for its ethnic stereotyping, this short is one of The 50 Greatest Cartoons, and one of The 100 Greatest Looney Tunes.
- Tin Pan Alley Cats — 1943, directed by Bob Clampett. One of The 100 Greatest Looney Tunes.
- Angel Puss — 1944, directed by Chuck Jones (the only short released under the Looney Tunes label and the only Chuck Jones-directed Censored Eleven short)
- Goldilocks and the Jivin' Bears — 1944, directed by Friz Freleng
The "Censored Eleven" are called so because in 1968, Associated Artists Productions rightsowner United Artists deemed all eleven of the short films — which contained numerous depictions of black people that are considered offensive — to be too
offensive for contemporary audiences (especially in light of the civil rights movement) and pulled them all from distribution. Unlike other shorts released at the time that were later edited to remove any racially-themed jokes (such as those found in various Tom and Jerry
and Looney Tunes
shorts), the racial themes in the Censored Eleven are so pervasive and thoroughly central to the plot of each of the shorts that editing them would essentially render the shorts into nothingness. Since 1968, the owners of the rights to these shorts — including the current rightsholders, Time Warner — have refused to show any one of them on television or (with a single exception) in theaters.
At the turn of the century, several animation historians began to publicize the existence of the Eleven, which led to an article about the shorts in the New York Times which discussed how they could all be found on YouTube
(or bootleg home video releases). This heightened public awareness led to a special theatrical airing of remastered editions of eight of the eleven shorts (Jungle Jitters
, Rabbit Stew
, and Angel Puss
being the three left out) at the TCM Classic Film Festival in 2010. In October 2010, Warner Bros. announced that the first legitimate home video release of the entire Censored Eleven would happen in 2011. While the release was initially pegged to be part of the Warner Archives "DVD-on-demand" program, it was later confirmed that the release would be a traditional retail release; along with the promise that the release will be "high class", the collection will also include several other rare cartoons from the time period of the Eleven and a number of bonus features. This release, however, has not yet seen the light of day.
Several other racially-themed shorts — including Confederate Honey
, Fresh Hare
, Which Is Witch
, and MGM's Uncle Tom's Cabana
and Half-Pint Pygmy
— and numerous World War II-era cartoons featuring unflattering depictions of the Japanese
are often associated with the Censored Eleven due to their racist content and how most of them haven't been seen on television because of it, though Fresh Hare
has been seen on TV (albeit with the ending cut
) and Which Is Witch was
shown on TV up until the 1990s (Nickelodeon was the last channel to air it, again with a scene involving black savage stereotypes cut. It also aired on CBS Saturday morning TV with a scene of Bugs trapped in the pressure cooker cut). These racially-themed cartoons aren't associated with The Censored Eleven and are in a class by itself (Which Is Witch
is part of a group of 12 Bugs Bunny cartoons — including the Censored Eleven's All This And Rabbit's Stew
— that have been pulled by Cartoon Network
due to the cartoons featuring Bugs facing off against a villain who happens to be an unacceptable racial target
Tropes associated with the Censored Eleven (in general) include:
- Blackface: Many jokes poke fun at black people, depicting them with enormous frog like lips, lazy or dimwitted behaviour and jive talk. Scenes of them eating water melons, stealing chickens, being scared of ghosts, obsessed with throwing dice,... are also rampant. Expect some imagery set in the days of slavery to turn up or jokes where their skin color turns out to be just black paint. Though a lot if it thrives on stereotypes that were typical of the time it must be said that this imagery was seen in many live-action films of that time period, including works with actual Afro-American actors and musicians like Louis Armstrong, Stepin Fetchit, Hattie McDaniel, Josephine Baker,... So, in some cases these jokes were meant as innocent parodies that modern audiences, unaware of the stuff referenced, will find offensive.
- The Golden Age of Animation: All eleven of the shorts were produced during this era.
- Keep Circulating the Tapes: While the Eleven have never had an official home video release, they have showed up on bootleg home video releases, and all eleven shorts can be found on Internet video sites (as the links above can attest to). The first official release of the Eleven was said to happen in 2011, though that release has not yet happened.
- Old Shame: The existence of the list is Warner Bros. way of pretending these shorts never existed.
- Overshadowed By Controversy: To the point that more has been written about the supposed racism in these cartoons than their artistic quality.
- Public Domain Animation: Several of the shorts on the list are in the Public Domain.